The news outlets reported that there will be six long weekends in 2016. But if your workplaces gives you off-in-lieu for Saturday public holidays (not all companies do), you actually have eight long weekends (nine if you take leave on 8 August, Monday).
I really love weekend travels. Even though this means that my trip is short, I don’t want to use my work leave. I’m a hoarder even when it comes to annual leave.
If you are planning to go for more weekend travels in 2016, I recommend these locations to go for their yummy yummy food.
I would visit Ipoh again and again for its food. It might not be as famous as Penang for its local food but that little town serves really good chicken.
How to reach Ipoh from Singapore:
Long-distance bus (7 to 8 hours)
Several bus companies run Singapore – Ipoh routes.
Airplane (1 hour 35 minutes) Firefly and Tigerair has flights between Singapore and Ipoh. Remember to research on the timing.
Pronounced as “Jogjakarta”, the town on the Java Island is home to gorgeous historical sites such as Borobudur and Prambanan. But the food is fantastic too.
I was deceived by nasi gudeg the first time I ate it. I thought the dish had a surprisingly generous serving of beef boiled so soft that I don’t have to chew it like a cow. Later found out that the “beef” is actually young jackfruit. I was disappointed but it’s still a very tasty dish.
I also had the best mie while in Yogyakarta. It was in a noodle shop inside the main shopping mall. The noodles were springy and seasoned lightly with soy sauce.
How to reach Yogyakarta from Singapore:
Airplane (2 hours 15 minutes)
AirAsia flies to Yogyakarta at a rather good timing. But the flight back leaves in the morning which is annoying.
If you find the flight timing for Yogyakarta terrible, your second best choice is Jakarta since it is the capital. There you can drink all the avocado juice you like.
I went to Bangkok for my birthday in April, spending a three-day weekend there. I ate normal stuff like pad thai, I didn’t eat enough food. I still haven’t tried Mango Sticky Rice.
How to reach Bangkok from Singapore:
Airplane (2 hours 25 minutes)
Loads of budget airlines fly from Singapore to Bangkok. Pick those with good departure and return timings so you can maximize your trip.
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
When I was in university staying in the dorm, my Vietnamese neighbors would cook with fish sauce. The potent smell wasn’t to my taste so I avoided Vietnamese food.
Then I went to Vietnam and I discovered that fish sauce is kind of like durian–stinky when you smell it but delicious when you taste it. I also discovered many other deliciousness that doesn’t involve fish sauce.
How to reach Ho Chi Minh from Singapore:
Airplane: (2 hours 5 minutes)
Loads of budget airlines fly from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh. As usual, pick those with good departure and return timings so you can maximize your trip.
I would travel to Shanghai for just a weekend so I can eat the food. In fact, I’m doing it at the end of May.
My tongue still longs for the taste of shengjianbao: dumplings fried on one side ’til crispy. Take a bit and the soup flows out so you have to slurp it up fast. After two slurps, you can eat the meat along with the crunchy part.
The home-cooked style restaurants in Shanghai are fantastic too. The soups come in porcelain basins and the servings are gigantic. I loved Grandma’s Place (a chain restaurant) when I was in Shanghai.
How to reach Shanghai from Singapore:
Airplane (5 hours 25 minutes direct)
Choosing a plane with a good timing is critical. I am taking Malaysian Airlines so I will reach Shanghai early at 7:30am on my first day and leave at 2pm-ish on my last day.
Another good alternative is Taiwan if you don’t want to fly that far to Shanghai.
My flight to Taipei was originally scheduled at 2:30pm and I was supposed to reach the destination at 4:25pm. However, I learned that the flight was delayed till the next morning so I would be Google, Faceook and Twitter-less for another day.
This is the story of the day my flight was delayed. (There’s a happy ending, don’t worry.)
Breakfast at Xiao Yang
After eating at Xiao Yang’s Dumpling yesterday, I still wanted to have more of it. The dumplings themselves weren’t delicate works but its rough, doughy texture and soupy filling makes it a great meal. This was why I decided to wake up early to head to a Xiao Yang branch before finishing my luggage packing and checking out.
As my phone didn’t have mobile Internet, I copied out the directions given by Baidu Map and took a look at the road maps for that area.
When I stepped out of the hotel, it was drizzling. I had to head back and grab my umbrella since I would be walking quite a distance later. The bus stop was right next to the hotel, which was convenient, but the bus that I needed to take arrived much later.
Taking the bus in Shanghai is very easy if you know Chinese as you will be able to read the destinations listed at the bus stop.
Even if you don’t know Chinese, there are announcements of the next destination of the bus once you are in it. However, sometimes the announcement comes too late (one second before the bus leaves the stop) so you’ll have to memorize how many stops there are before yours.
I reached my destination without a glitch and found the restaurant. The Xiao Yang Dumpling branch at Huanghe Road (黄河路) is the main branch and it even has an upper floor.
As with yesterday, I paid for my dumplings and went to queue. Unfortunately for me, the last dumpling in the pan was given away right before my turn. I waited for the next batch and suddenly realized that I was standing in the wrong queue. Thus I joined the second queue.
Again, my luck ran out and there were only 3 remaining dumplings by the time it was my turn. It was déjà vu as the same situation happened yesterday. I was a bit whiny so the employee told me to find a table and she’ll let someone send it up.
So up I went the upper level which smelled like a musty table cloth. My wanton soup arrived and I happily dug in. The fried dumplings were still as oily and had a strong taste of pork, making me wonder why I actually like them. As I ate, I realized that the best part about these dumplings were the soup inside.
Unlike xiaolongbao which are tiny, these shengjianbao are much bigger. Nibbling a bit of the upper part off, you can slurp out the scalding hot soup inside. It takes several deep slurps to suck the dumpling dry. Then comes the crunchy bottom part (which is actually the top of a regular Chinese bun). This is the most oily but I cannot help not eating them.
After I finished my meal, my single dumpling hadn’t arrived yet. I waited and waited and still there was no sign of my dumpling. Since my stomach was stretched to its limit, I thought I should just leave without it.
As I walked down the stairs, I thought I heard the employees say my table number. Too late to turn back and finish that little rascal.
Off I went in search of my bus back to the hotel. Again, it was the slowest to arrive but at least I had a seat.
Taking the metro to Shanghai airport
At first, I thought about taking the Maglev train to Shanghai Pudong Airport. However, Nicole who went to the airport last night reported that the time it takes to reach the airport wasn’t very long so I decided to take the metro and save 33 yuan. Plus, the distance from Longshan Station to the airport is really quite short.
Off I went with my luggage to Yuyuan Station. The rain had stopped but the ground was still wet with puddles.
The train station wasn’t as crowded as it was yesterday. I couldn’t find a seat so I stood most of the way. At Guanglan Station, everyone got off and switched to another train.
Flight delayed…until tomorrow
Finally, I reached Shanghai Pudong Airport. But when I reached the check in counter, there was a note saying that the flight had been delayed to 8pm and we should check in at 2pm. Hey! We were supposed to leave at 2:30pm. The airline would get us a room to rest.
There wasn’t much to do in Terminal 2 so I walked around, bought a stamp for a postcard home, walked around some more and sat down to read before it was our check in time.
At check in, Air China employee told me to wait at Gate 26 for the shuttle to the airport. As you have guessed, the bus–buses actually since there were too–came late.
We were driven around for a while before finally stopping at a fancy hotel. Is this where we will be resting?
Yes, it was. The hotel staff said the rooms were for two people so I paired up with a lady who spoke with a Taiwanese accent. After putting my bags in my room, I head out for food and some toiletries shopping.
The little ramen place that I visited was run by Muslim-Chinese. Many of them run noodle shops such as the one I went to. The father of the house was rolling dough and pulling it into thin strands of noodles.
Unfortunately, the noodle wasn’t that good. I couldn’t finish half of it. When I asked how much it was, the son even charged me a large bowl of noodles although I think it was a small one. That’s only 1 yuan difference but it’s annoying to be overcharged.
Then it was toiletries shopping. I bought several bars of soap–something I’ve been buying as souvenirs for some time–although I’m afraid that people might think I am hinting that they need to take a shower if I give them any.
So back to the hotel I went. While I went online in the lobby, I spotted my roommate who was getting her luggage out of storage. Turns out, she was returning to her home in Shanghai city as the flight was delayed until tomorrow.
Back in my room, I found out that the internet speed was really fast. Wonderful! I have been plagued by slow internet speed since returning home.
In the middle of j-drama bingeing, the reception called to say that I could go for dinner at 5:30pm. Dinner was pitiful but at least they tried.
Later, the reception called again to say that check out tomorrow is at 5:30am and we will leave at 6:00am.
I have come to embrace days when I do not do sightseeing while travelling. These days are for recharging and slowing down.
Today was one of those days of very slow travel.
Going to the wrong Grandma’s Place
In the morning, we headed to what I thought was a branch of Grandma’s Place (外婆家). This is a famous chain of restaurant in Hangzhou. We didn’t make it there because there was always a gigantic queue in front of the place.
However, when we got to that particular restaurant, it felt weird. The sign said “Grandma’s Place” in Chinese but it looked like a pokey little place instead of the grand chain that we saw.
I couldn’t remember where the other branches of Grandma’s Place were so we stood outside Costa Coffee for its free WI-Fi. While we were searching, Nicole suggested that we head to Xiao Yang’s Place for 生煎包 (shengjianbao) which our mutual friend had recommended. Then I remembered that there was a Grandma’s Place branch there so off we went in search of food.
The fake Granma’s Place is situated just outside of the Chenghuang Shopping area so we had to swim through crowds to get to the subway station.
Once we were at the right stop, it took a while to find Grandma’s Place since I didn’t record the address. Nicole used Costa Coffee’s Wi-Fi to figure out where to go.
Grandma, what big bowls you have!
The branch that we went to occupied the whole 7th level of a shopping mall. It was like a maze trying to get to our table. Since it was still a bit too early for lunch, we didn’t have to wait for our table.
We ordered what we thought would feed 2 people nicely. But what came out seemed to be a nice meal for four.
Of course, we ate them all (except a bit of dessert).
Our next to-do list was to eat shengjianbao at Xiao Yang. However, we were still very full from lunch so we had to pass time before eating again.
We spent much of our time in Costa Coffee, surfing the internet. I dearly miss apps such as Facebook and Twitter but I had to satisfy myself with repeatedly looking at Instagram and WeChat. It was a very difficult period.
After sitting in the café one hour too long, we went off to do a bit of shopping. Yes, it was only “a bit”. My favorite clothes store UNIQLO has awesome shops in Shanghai. While we were there, its largest worldwide flagship store was opened somewhere in Shanghai but I didn’t go because we didn’t have time.
Finally, it was time for tea. There was already a queue at Xiao Yang. Unlike the Nanxiang branch we went to yesterday, Xiao Yang’s employees do not help customers look for seats. Instead, Nicole found a table while I queued for the shengjianbao.
Unfortunately for me, my order of 8 mini buns lacked just one bun and I had to wait for the next batch.
At XIao Yang (or at least the two branches that I’ve been to), the buns are cooked constantly so you won’t get anything chilled. The main cook prepares the buns by arranging a pan full of raw buns in hot oil. The buns are arranged with the usual top (the swirly part) on the pan so the flat part remains white and fluffy.
The cook then shifts the pan from side to side so the oil scalds all the buns. This process takes forever since I was only waiting for ONE. After the buns are fully cooked, the cook shifts it to another pan from where the food is served. The assistant then scatters sesame seeds and some Chinese green onion-like thing before scooping the cooked buns onto plates.
The most fun part about these shengjianbao is the soupy inside. When you bite into a Xiao Yang bun, the soup flows out and you have to slurp it up fast. It takes me about 2 slurps to suck the thing dry. Then you eat the meat along with the crunchy part. It is divine.
After our meal, it was time to head back to the hotel. Nicole had to catch a flight at 1am so we couldn’t go shopping.
We checked out of our upgraded suite because we made a reservation at a nearby buffet place. But first, Nicole had to buy flu medicine because she was coming down with something.
At Watson’s we couldn’t find any familiar flu medicine. The rest of the Chinese medicine came in big boxes with up to thirty pills each. (The one Nicole bought said you need to take 3 pills each time, no wonder the volume is huge.)
We walked to the mall where the buffet place was but we didn’t head there first. We hung around outside a café which provided free Wi-Fi. Here in China, places like Starbucks and Haagen-Daaz offer Wi-Fi but you need to have a local phone number to receive the password that it sends.)
At Costa Coffee, there is an option to select English in the Wi-Fi obtaining page. This allows us to use our foreign phone number to receive password. We already binged on the WI-Fi there last night but somehow I managed to write several Whatsapp messages and look at Instagram (one of the few apps I could use in China).
At last, we headed to the buffet place. It full name is “Lily Garden Seafood Buffet Meals”. From the outside, it looks like a posh restaurant. On the inside, it still looks posh and has many stalls serving different dishes. Its size is still smaller than the Jogoya in Kuala Lumpur.
Glutton at Lily Garden
First up on our personal menu was raw fish from the Japanese stall. There was already a queue forming at that particular spot because who doesn’t like loads of sashimi? Nicole and I had to fight others with our chopsticks when it came to picking up the limp sashimi from its tray. Crabs with fat legs were available as well.
At the to-order stalls, there were loads of choices. I went to the grill stall the most, ordering foie gras and steak. The steaks came out to be smaller than my palm as they seem to think that people would want to eat more of other stuff.
The alcohol section was filled with flutes of colorful mixtures. I also got a small bottle of cold sake which was a bit watered down.
After a lot of stuffing our faces, it was time for dessert. I picked Maple Walnut flavor which was divine. Too bad I couldn’t eat another mouthful.
All that cost 218 yuan per person, which was expensive in terms of living costs in China but it was worth every cent.
After lunch, we went back to the hotel to pick up our luggage to move to our other hotel. While looking for a cab, we found a bunch of drivers loitering around. These loitering cabbies seem to want to pick up customers who would pay more. One of them even told us to get on a cab by the road.
Before getting on the cab, I was worried that the driver would take us around in circles. I have a fear of dishonest taxi drivers and I have heard of a lot of horror stories about cabs in China. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the cabbie didn’t exceed the fee estimated by Baidu Map.
Our new hotel was situated near the Bund and Yu Yuan Gardens. We took a nap before heading out into the wild wild city.
A walk with the crowd on the Bund and Nanjing East Road
When we were in Shanghai, it was halfway into the week-long National Day public holidays. My mom even sent a shot of the newspaper back home which reported of the massive crowds in China. Nicole and I had to chance to witness just a bit of this phenomenon.
At first, when we got to the Bund–a long stretch of road besides the river–it looked like there weren’t a lot of people. When we got onto the second level where the view of the river was, we realized that there were more tourists that we thought.
To me, the bund didn’t change as much as West Lake did when I was in China back in 2007. There were still old buildings on the left and fancy high-raise on the right of the river shore.
As we walked down the Bund, careful to take photos with less photobombers, we reached the end of Nanjing East Road. There was another long walk before we could reach the pedestrian street of Nanjing East Road. It was here when we met the full force of Chinese on holidays.
At the pavement opposite, we say crowds of people shuffling towards the Bund. The last time I’ve seen a crowd of such size walking obediently in one direction was at the end of a National Day parade in Singapore. There was just too many people.
We had to slip through free spaces between humans to move forward to our destination. Nanjing East Road is famous for shopping and I was eager to look at the collection at Uniqlo.
Before we reached Nanjing East Road, we stopped by the Forever 21 right before the start of the pedestrian street. The price tag of a product reached 200 yuan and it made me wonder how the Chinese can afford to buy these clothes when it makes up such a big portion of their salary? Maybe they earn more than I realize.
After Forever 21, we managed to hit 2 Uniqlo stores. One of them was tiny and had a limited selection while the other was a lot bigger but didn’t have the things I want in my size.
For dinner, we had 小笼包 (xiao long bao) which are tiny dumplings with a soupy and meaty filling. We ate at one of the branches of the famous Nanxiang Xiao Long Bao shop. This particular branch is hidden on the 3rd floor of Shanghai’s First Food Hall (2nd if you start with Ground Floor) and was recommended by a few people from Shanghai whom we met at Lilian’s wedding.
The mini buns were yummy. Soup flowed onto my soup spoon as I bit through the skin. At 25 yuan for 8 pieces, it was a price not found in Singapore.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel. Nanjing East Road was still packed with people, shuffling slowly from one end to the other. We saw a mass dance performed by senior citizens and several bands (with old and young lead singers).
We walked on the Bund again on our way back. At night, the historical buildings were washed in yellow light, which was more pleasing than the bright, florescent-like sunlight. Opposite, sky scarpers blinked out advertisements or wore hoops of neon lights.
Lilian kindly booked us a room for the night since the dinner ceremony would end quite late. (7:30pm!) When she checked us in, she had to borrow someone else’s identity card because the little hotel cannot accept foreigners.
I asked Lilian to explain why. She said that only certain hotels can accept foreigners since there would be major problems if the visitor faces problems (aka dies) while staying in the hotel.
Since Lilian booked too many rooms, Nicole and I each had a room. My room had 2 single beds and a view of the countryside. I didn’t get to see the countryside at night as it was too dark.
The bathroom had a squatting toilet and a shower. My shower didn’t have hot water in the morning but it had loads the previous night. In the toilet was a curtain with a naked girl. I thought that was very weird. (Though not as weird as the erotic name cards we received in Ibis.)
I lit a mosquito coil during the night and kept the cutains closed. I felt faint from what could be the fumes that night. At least I didn’t died.
Breakfast in Feng Shu Ling
All the guests had breakfast at an eatery nearby. There, Lilian introduced us to 米羹 (mi geng), a rice paste-like dish with some local chili sauce and preserved vegetable. She explained that the dish was made during war times when food was scarce. The villagers put together all the rice they have as well as the veggies. Out came this special dish.
Other food served was a pancake with preserved vegetables (again!) and bits of meat. There was also sweet soy bean milk and runny, plain rice porridge as well as tea eggs (eggs boiled in tea).
Bus to Qiandao Hu
After breakfast, Nicole and I waited for the bus back to Qiandao Hu. We would need to catch the 13:50 bus to Shanghai.
Lilian’s husband, Mr Lilian, was very helpful with the bus. He even ran across the street when the first bus at 9am came. Unfortunately, that bus was full so we had to wait for the 10am bus.
Lilian was more anxious than us and asked if a local could drive us to Qiandao Hu. As the lady driver was getting ready, another bus came. Mr Lilian went to check if the bus was leaving soon. Turns out, it was the 10am bus but it came out earlier to pick up passengers and would leave early if there were enough passengers.
So Nicole and I, as well as Lilian’s cousin, got on the 10am bus. We said farewell to the newlyweds and waited patiently for the bus to leave.
Unfortunately, the bus didn’t fill up as fast as I hoped. In the end, the bus left as its usual timing.
The road to Qiandao Hu was rocky. Even though I was napping throughout the 2-hour journey, I felt the bus sway from left to right. The driver even had to honk frequently on the narrow road.
Let’s just fast forward to the Qiandao Hu bus station since the first bus journey was very boring. At the Qiandao Hu bus station, Lilian’s cousin sent us off until the waiting room. Nicole had to tell the cousin that we would be alright alone before she left.
Bus to Shanghai
Soon, it was our turn to board the bus. The bus was quite full. I sat next to an older lady who shifted the airconditioning shaft directly at me. -_-”
As we zipped through the highways to Shanghai, I was surprised at how developed China is. There were multiple high-raised roads (is that how you call them) and buildings on the side of the road either soared up high into the sky or were built in the strange format preferred by rich farmers. These strangely shaped houses are usually painted gray and are at least 3 storey high. They look like milk-boxes with roofs inspired by ancient Chinese roof tiles. It gave an impression of a mix of the west and China but in a jarring way.
At the beginning of the journey, I watched the very lame movie. It was about killer giant crocodiles. The movie was predictable so I napped in short bursts along the way.
We stopped at a rest stop and the driver game us only 10 minutes. He warned everyone not to get instant noodles too.
Unfortunately, we got back onto the bus late. The driver yelled at me in his extra loud voice: DO YOU WANT TO FIND YOUR OWN TRANSPORT TO SHANGHAI?
I went back to my seat meekly and watched the other movie. I think it was The Transporter with the very buff Jason Standham. (?)
We reached Shanghai sooner than I thought. We got off the bus at 6:30pm and took the metro to our hotel.
Our hotel room was upgraded to a suite because they ran out of double bed rooms.
Then we went in search of food, stopping by Watson on the way.
Since Costa Coffee had free WI-FI, Nicole and I holed ourselves up at the café to update our social networks. We also made reservations for a buffet lunch tomorrow. Cannot wait!
Hello everyone! My 2-week break from blogging has just ended and I’m very excited to tell you about where I’m heading off to next.
On September 26, I’ll be flying to Hangzhou, China, where I will meet up with my friend Nicole. We’re spending a few days there before heading to Zhejiang for the wedding of our friend. After the wedding (and hopefully without a hangover), we will be going to Shanghai.
As it’s the National Day holidays in China then, I’m crossing all my fingers, toes and limbs that transportation will be smooth and we can get good hotel rooms at affordable rates.
After Shanghai, I’m flying to Taipei where I’ll be meeting my parents for a 10-day trip around the island. We’ll also be taking advantage of cheap tour groups organized by the Taiwanese government for overseas Chinese. Let’s hope we don’t fall into some strange loveboat tour. ;)
Do you live in either Hangzhou, Shanghai or Taiwan? Share your travel tips with me in the comments or on Facebook!
Where on earth is YQ?
Now, I’m back home in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. Even though I’ve written about being homeless, I’ve come to realize that this place that I’ve lived in for a good 18 years of my life is really home–at least for now.
What have I been doing these few days? Besides helping out at my parents’ shops, I’ve been playing a bit of mahjong with my mom’s and working on the first draft of a Chinese travel memoir.
Wait… A memoir in Chinese? Yes, I working on a Chinese book first because my parents haven’t really been following my journey on my blog because English is not their main language.
Sad to say, I’ve only reached the end of Anuradhapura in my draft and that’s the first 10 days of the trip! I need to find out a way to be stop being so long winded.
I’ll be heading back to Singapore at the end of October to look for a “real job”. If you know any company that’s looking for a travel and writing-loving person, ping me a note here in the comments or drop me an e-mail [yqtravelling AT gmail.com]. Thanks!